This week, I was lucky enough to steal an hour from Brooke Kosowski, President/CEO of Fine Arts StageWorks in Chicago and Sing It Child in Milwaukee. She has barely lived in Milwaukee a year and is already happily growing her newest artistic venture while enjoying the same things I love about my hometown—the urban feel accompanied by nearby wilderness, the friendly people, the lively city. I could go on, but instead let’s learn about Brooke’s many loves!
People with Panache: Can you tell me a little bit about Fine Arts StageWorks, your first company?
Brooke Kosowski: My studio in Chicago is on the south side, very much a blue-collar community, where I was born and raised. As I graduated through my coaching in the arts, I found myself increasingly having to go downtown and pay exorbitant amounts for really great training that was totally worth it—but nothing was available where I grew up. So my whole mission was to bring legitimate fine-arts training, everything fine arts under one roof, literally to the backyard of the south side of Chicago. We do dance, straight dramatic theater, musical theater, improv; we teach voice lessons, piano lessons, guitar, drums, everything.
PWP: So are there a lot of multi-talented faculty, then?
BK: Oh yes. For example, a lot of my voice teachers also teach piano, but then they are also able to direct musical theater. Everyone’s gifts are used as much as possible.
“I to my core believe that this is what I’m wired for.”
PWP: That sounds a lot like Janessa. She just announced Monday that she hired two people, and made it clear that she wanted to hire talented people who were better at what they do than she is, so she can let them be free and do what they do.
BK: That’s the hardest lesson, learning how to delegate things so that people’s gifts and strong points are being utilized, and discovering what those strong points are in each person—including in yourself as a business owner. It’s really cool how owning a business really carves out your character, teaches you beyond what your specific industry is about.
PWP: It sounds like a huge part of your life has been devoted to this field. What’s it like to now be the person who’s cultivating that in others?
BK: It’s awesome. It’s interesting because I feel like what I do when I work with people through music is sometimes not even of me… I to my core believe that this is what I’m wired for, so when I’m in the act of teaching it feels like a flow. It’s feels like it’s the work I’m supposed to be doing, sometimes to the point where it doesn’t even feel like work, which is when you know you’ve gotten it right.
PWP: That’s like the pinnacle—matching your skills and your gifts to your work! Have you always resonated with music?
BK: Yes! There are many tapes around my parents’ home of me singing Stevie Wonder, the BeeGees, Michael Jackson. My home was always a place for all genres of music; it was never one specific style. And in my job you kind of have to know a tool set for each genre.
PWP: So you obviously started in Chicago because you were from there and had your base. Why did you expand up to Milwaukee?
BK: Ah, love.
Since 2008, I’ve slowly built the faculty and administrative base at Fine Arts StageWorks, and I have a team there now that’s just amazing. Everything there just flows, so I really physically don’t have to be there every day.
Then, the love of my life, Nathan, got a job promotion here. He’s originally from Wisconsin. So for him it was back to his homeland, and it’s very new for me. But I like it!
“I love helping people.”
I should mention, too, Reginald Baylor is an artist who I connected with here. It’s because of him I even have this space. (Ed. Note: She conducts her Sing It Child voice and piano lessons in an office among other artists’ spaces.) All the other 12 or 13 studios here serve as an artist co-op. He provided a space for all of us to kind of have a home and do what we love without having that pressure and huge costs of affording a brick-and-mortar, advertising, all that. It’s a community of artists, a really, really awesome concept.
PWP: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?
BK: I love helping people. I love being present when people discover that there’s a richer, meatier part of their voice to be discovered and they tap into it. Just breaking the mold on their small-mindedness toward themselves—busting that open and watching them be greater than they thought they could be. How can you not love that?
PWP: Are there any big lessons you’ve learned the past few years of having these businesses, any experiences that were great learning moments for you?
BK: I’ve learned to not overinvest myself, to keep a better balance between work and home life. I’ve learned that the majority of people will appreciate and see your intentions and your efforts, and for those who don’t, you can’t get hung up on it. I’ve also learned how to communicate with people who are way off-base, but still maintain diplomacy and respect, patience. I’ve become much better at listening.
PWP: Do you still do a lot of singing yourself?
BK: From ages 20 to 27, I traveled doing musical theater, opera, some voice-over stuff. But then when you own a business, that becomes a concentration.
In recent years, as staff has expanded, there’s been more freedom to do stuff like that. So I’ve done a few improv shows, and this summer I’ll be doing a performance of Nunsense with some friends, so I’m starting to get back into it.
I also feel like it was good to take a break from the performance hamster wheel and just kind of root and learn things, sharpen my business sense, grow a little bit more professionally. I think it’s really good it happened in that way.
PWP: So what makes you happiest?
BK: I would say having my love Nathan, my Gingeroo, my chocolate cocker spaniel puppy angel, an amazing cup of coffee and a really long walk on a beautiful day. Happiest!
[Photos by Alysse.]